The Music Industry has just entered into the great battle of its life and nobody realizes it. Nothing since the launch of Napster has had larger impact on the future of the recording business than Beyonce’s decision to push forward with an iTunes-only release.
It wasn’t the lack of promotion that was the shocker, nor the visual album that broke the ground. It was the mere decision to move ahead of physical retail. As only Tamar Braxton could say it best, SHE DID THAT. And not only did she do that, she did it well, breaking sales records all along the way.
Now, Target (in an entirely unwise move, in my opinion) has mobilized its rumored army and met Beyonce and the entire rest of the music industry, unwittingly dragged along, in the epic battle that no one previously wanted to fight. See, in all the years that I’ve worked in music, the most serious tension that existed, the push backwards against the trend toward digital, was the absolute paralyzing fear that if we did anything to upset physical retail, namely move forward with a digital release ahead of them, the world would absolutely end. Sun, so more. Just pitch. black. night. And no more record sales. It would end us. That fear kept us beholden to piracy, album leaks, and huge promotional spends to guarantee rack space and prioritization, even though everyone knows that physical CD’s are used as a loss leader everywhere it counts. Yes, the wrath of physical retail was the boogeyman that no one wanted to face, that no one in the music industry felt that we were strong enough to fight.
Enter Beyonce and her army of girl-power-infused “she-devil” feminists. And I use the term “she devil” with the utmost respect – it connotes a lack of fear. An “I don’t give a single f*ck and haven’t had any to give in an while” kind of bravado that not only must you respect, but if you’re any kind of institution, any kind of old school retail gatekeeper or guardsman, has got to have you shaking just a little in your well-entrenched boots. This battle you never thought you’d have to fight. This battle you’re going to lose; and truth be told, it was lost before the battle began. To borrow from Tamar Braxton again, SHE WON.
It was only the fear of what might happen (loss of sales, not loss of physical retail support) that kept the music industry stuck with day and date release parity with physical retail. Now, thanks to Target, we get to see what actually will (or in this case won’t) be the actual repercussion. Remember the Cold War? Well, it was a war that was never intended to be fought. As was this with the music industry. Target should have never entered the battlefield. Walmart and Best Buy didn’t. At least this way, they could have always held the fear overhead and continued, for a while at least, to say “what if.” But now we know what if. Nothing is what. More sales at digital is what. Lack of leaks and thwarting piracy is what. iTunes is officially crowned King of Music is what. Digital wins.
And for all other industries living in fear of fighting this same battle, both sides should watch closely. Because if you chose to fight, one will have to die. If you choose to cooperate, you actually might step forward into what we like to call INNOVATION.